It’s hard enough to get front-line employees to buy into brand messaging when you’re running one company. Make it two, and the potential for chaos skyrockets.
IBM and software firm Red Hat are facing this challenge after the pair signed a $34 billion deal. While headlines focus on the magnitude of the financial transaction — the deal is IBM’s largest acquisition ever — it’s the merging of corporate identities that promises the most upheaval.
Any companies considering a merger are undoubtedly aware of countless cautionary tales. One of the most notable failed unions occurred back in 2000 when Time Warner and AOL agreed to the largest financial merger in American history. With so much potential, what caused this deal to go south? Failure to tell a unified story.
A Costly Game of Chicken
Mergers can turn into turf wars, but these territorial disputes undermine what should be a time of unification. The best mergers are not about winning or losing; they are an opportunity to form a new entity greater than the sum of its parts. Every party involved should work together to find a “third way”: a new set of principles that reflect the collective strength of the two companies.
These three pointers can ensure the company can rally around a unified story:
1. Get real about each other’s strengths. Take time to spotlight each company and fully
explore its strengths. Once you’ve done your homework, place those profiles side by side to piece together a unified story. Your team will not be able to represent the new brand confidently to
the outside world without a solid internal narrative.
Simply saying you will be better because of a merger misses an opportunity to share your story. Often, companies carry out mergers fearfully, and the acquiring company hesitates to change anything about the acquired company’s messaging. They take a "do no harm" approach to their new assets, and the result is a tentative tale that makes the merger seem like an accident rather than a positive change.
2. Listen to your front-line employees. Too many mergers happen only at the
corporate level. Front-line workers are the heart and soul of any company, but the C-suite sometimes fails to consider those employees when determining what makes a brand unique.
As the new story takes shape, test it internally and externally to ensure it resonates. Leaders can win hearts and minds by holding discussions with employees and following up with swift action plans.
3. Get in the trenches — and stay there. Mergers can be highly disruptive and anxiety-inducing. Providing support through this period is critical.
Employees must see their roles in this new vision and have a chance to evolve accordingly.
This can be done by stationing brand ambassadors from both sides of a merger in each site for extended periods to drive the adoption of the new unified vision. These ambassadors are part brand evangelist, part coach, and part therapist and can make employees feel comfortable while building the new brand from the inside out.
Teams that can blend seamlessly never focus on one company over another. A merger should be more of a marriage than a power struggle, and every party involved must be fully invested in working together to make the new company better than the sum of its parts. Successful mergers require team members to listen, compare, and collaborate to create a third way forward.
Chris Wallace is the president and co-founder of InnerView, a marketing consulting firm that helps companies transfer their brand messages to their customer-facing employees and partners.